Sun 'n Lake hosts pro qualifier

SEBRING - For the second consecutive year, Sun 'n Lake Golf Club is hosting the prestigious NEC Series PGA Tour Latinoamercia Qualifying Tournament on the demanding Deer Run course.

The event kicks off with a practice round today for the 132 players and the four-day, 72-hole qualifier begins Tuesday and ends Friday.

"We're very proud to be hosting this qualifying tournament again," said Sun 'n Lake golf professional Andy Kesling. "It's a big event and our golf course continues to get better and this is a step in the right direction for us. There will be PGA Tour-caliber players qualifying and it's a tribute to our golf course to be chosen to host this event."

The top 20 qualifiers earn full exempt status for the NEC Series PGA Tour Latinoamerica circuit for 2014, while the next 25 earn conditional status for the year.

There have been many great golf stars from Latin America such as Angel Cabrera, Jhonattan Vegas, Roberto De Vicenzo and Camillo Villegas. Many of the players in this year's field have the talent and ability to be the PGA Tour stars of tomorrow.

Rocky Khara, who is a senior on the golf team at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Ryan Chandler, a professional, are the only two local entries in the field and both have excellent chances to qualify since they have a lot of experience on the Deer Run course.

"Rocky grew up playing on our Sertoma Junior Golf Tour and we love having him in the field," said Kesling. "Ryan was an assistant here at Sun 'n Lake last summer and has a solid game.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how they play."

On this highway to the higher levels of professional golf, the PGA Tour Latinoamerica members will have the opportunity to earn points for the Official World Golf Rankings.

These points could help the region's players qualify for the 2016 Olympic golf competition.

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, the first to ever be hosted by a South American nation, have been one of the main motivations behind the PGA Tour Latinoamerica.

The return of golf to the Olympic program for the first time in more than 100 years has created unprecedented interest by local and international organizations in order to give golf a boost throughout the region.

Many of the 132 players in the qualifier will be staying in hotels and eating in restaurants in Highlands County during the week.

"The players will be here for five days and there's no doubt this event is going to be good for the local economy," Kesling said. "This is great exposure for Sun 'n Lake and Highlands County."

Last year's winner of the qualifier was Jhared Hack who finished 12-under for the four days.

"There are some outstanding golfers in the field and you never know who you're going to see," said Kesling. "I think it's going to take around par to be in the top 20."

Spectators are invited to attend the qualifier at no charge, but no carts will be available.

"We invite everyone to come out and watch some really talented players compete on a demanding, well-conditioned golf course," Kesling said. "The course measures 7,100 yards and it plays longer with some of the elevated greens. "There's room to hit the ball, but you better have a good short game to score well and we're looking forward to hosting a great week of golf."